The month of June always makes me giddy in anticipation for the fun days of summer. Even though today – I have a career – I live vicariously through my 7-year-old son who is super excited for his summer vacation to begin in exactly two weeks.
It brings me back to the summers of my youth – in Jersey – of course. Memories of fried clams at Zelbes in Belmar, sweet treats at Day’s Ice Cream Parlor in the Grove, fun in the sun at the beach, and Action Park.
Yes, for those of you who hail from the East Coast, I went there.
Every year for my July birthday, my mom and I would make our annual pilgrimage – either solo, with family or my BFF Dina – to the amusement park and first American waterpark at the Vernon Valley/Great Gorge ski area.
Action Park featured three separate attraction areas: The Alpine Slide, Motorworld and Waterworld. The park’s rides were incomparable and brought thrill-seekers from across the New York Tri-State area.
According to Wikipedia, the park’s popularity went hand in hand with a reputation for poorly designed, unsafe rides; inattentive, underage employees; intoxicated, unprepared visitors; and the consequently poor safety record.
“At least six people are known to have died as a result of mishaps on rides at the park. It was given nicknames such as ‘Traction Park,’ ‘Accident Park’ by doctors at nearby hospitals due to the number of severely injured park-goers they treated,” states Wikipedia.
Despite its negative history, I can honestly say that on the days leading up to my visits to Action Park, I was so excited I could barely contain myself.
Our first trip to Action Park – which was only open Memorial through Labor days – was for my 8th birthday. Exactly the same age that my son will be this summer.
By California law, my son must still ride in a booster car seat until he is 4’ 9”; at 4’ 2”, he still has a ways to go. But when I was his age, I was allowed to jump off a 23 foot high diving cliff, ride the treacherous Alpine Slide, and drive gasoline fueled go-karts while at Action Park.
Action Park was best known for its Alpine Slide. Concrete and fiberglass gulleys were carved into the side of a ski mountain and served as tracks for plastic sleds. These sleds were controlled by a lever that had two speeds: really slow or “death awaits.”
My mom, Dina and I would throw on our sneakers and, clad only in our bathing suits since we were also going on the water rides, would zip down the shoots. I was always petrified – as I should have been as there were no helmets here – and would go as slow as I possibly could. Inevitably, some jerk would come speeding down the track and crash into the back of my cart to show how annoyed he was with my cautiously slow speed.
Not necessarily a big fan of the Alpine Slide, my favorite part of the park was definitely Waterworld and my preferred attraction was the Colorado River Ride. At the bottom of a hill, riders would be given a black inner tube and we would wind our way up the concrete path, through a shady wooded area, barefoot and dripping wet.
Once at the top, you would jump on your inner tube and start to float down the lazy river. Slowly at first until you started to gain speed as the river ran steep downhill. Sometimes, if you took a curve too fast, your tube would fly up on the embankment. If you weren’t holding on, the rider would fly out of the river – landing unceremoniously (and painfully) on wood chips, rocks and weeds.
There was also a tunnel that was made of real rocks and, if you reached your hand out into the pitch darkness, you would find yourself bleeding and scratched on the other side.
To me, the best part was the end and the big downhill portion that had jumps and bumps a foot high. If you were lucky and could stay on your inner tube, you would get air and slam down with a jolt. If you lost your raft, well, you would probably find yourself at the first aid station getting medical attention.
I also loved the high speed water slides. They nearly vertical slopes for super-fast speeds. At the top, the slides were so steep that they had netting over top for the first several feet. I always remember my body elevating at this part of the ride and then slamming back down a few “feet” later. The lifeguards would yell at you to lay down and stay down. If you didn’t, there was room for serious error, like flying off the slide.
Since these were the only water slides I had ever really been on in my life, I didn’t realize that getting a giant water enema and wedgie wasn’t actually normal. Gross but true, I mean, I was 8 you know.
As I mentioned before, I loved that 23 foot plunge off the diving cliffs; surf hill in which you slide down a water slicked slope on mats that landed in puddles; and the wave pool – aka the “Grave Pool,” – until I had my coming to Jesus moment.
The deadly wave pool was 100 feet wide and 250 feet long and could hold 500 to 1,000 people. Waves were simulated for 20 minute at a time with 10 minute breaks in between. And, the waves could get as high as 3 feet.
Despite being tired, I was able to make my way to the side of the pool – with about 500 poor souls who were trying not to drown – treading water in order to keep my head afloat until it was my turn to climb the ladder out. As you can tell, I survived to tell my story but others weren’t so lucky.
According to Wikipedia, Six people are known to have died at Action Park:
· On July 8, 1980, a 19-year-old park employee was riding the Alpine Slide when his car jumped the track and his head hit a rock, killing him.
· On July 24, 1982, a 15-year-old boy drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool.
· A week later on Aug. 1, 1982, a 27-year-old man tipped his kayak on the Kayak Experience and was electrocuted when he stepped on a grate that was in contact with, or came too close to, a section of wiring for the underwater fans that was exposed.
· In 1984, a fatal heart attack was suffered by one visitor who some believe was triggered by the shock of jumping into the cold water below the Tarzan Swing.
· On Aug. 27, 1984 a 20-year-old died in the Tidal Wave Pool.
· On July 19, 1987, an 18-year-old drowned in the Tidal Wave Pool.
I was shocked to read that, due to all the deaths and the inability to get liability insurance, Action Park operated with no insurance policy for its last several years in operation, said Wikipedia.
I seriously had no idea this seemingly idyllic amusement park was such a dangerous commodity and I continued to frequent the park up until I was in college in the early 90s.
When I met my husband a few years later, I joked with him about all my scars that I had from this crazy water park that I would go to as a kid. I told him about the water slides, the high dives and I even mentioned the Alpine Slides. I said it was crazy but so much fun.
Then, a few weeks ago, he emailed me a Yahoo! Article that was about a looping water slide at Action Park. The slide had a complete vertical loop like a roller coaster and test dummies had been dismembered. The actual ride was only open for a few days because riders had too suffered many back injuries and bloody noses. The article also went into detail about all the injuries and the few deaths that had occurred at the menacing park.
Looking back, Action Park didn’t seem all that scary. Yes, most of the rides were extreme and, in hind sight, dangerous; however, I just always accepted that this was how you had fun in the Motherland.
It guess it's just a Jersey thing.